Jan Morris Wiki – Biography
Jan Morris, CBE, FRSL was a Welsh historian, author and travel writer, has died. She was known particularly for the Pax Britannica trilogy (1968–1978), a history of the British Empire, and for portraits of cities, including Oxford, Venice, Trieste, Hong Kong, and New York City. She published under her birth name, James, until 1972, when she had gender reassignment surgery after transitioning from male to female.
She was a member of the 1953 British Everest expedition, which made the first ascent.
Born James Morris, in England to an English mother and Welsh father, Morris was educated at Lancing College, West Sussex, and Christ Church, Oxford. James became Jan and considered herself Welsh.
In the closing stages of the Second World War, Morris served in the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers, and in 1945 was posted to the Free Territory of Trieste, during the joint British-American occupation.
Morris began transitioning to life as a woman in 1964.:105 In 1972, Morris travelled to Morocco to undergo sex reassignment surgery, performed by surgeon Georges Burou,:135–144 because doctors in Britain refused to allow the procedure unless Morris and Tuckniss divorced, something Morris was not prepared to do at the time.:127 They divorced later, but remained together and on 14 May 2008 were legally reunited when they formally entered into a civil partnership.
Morris detailed her transition in Conundrum (1974), her first book under her new name, and one of the first autobiographies to discuss a personal gender reassignment.
Morris told Michael Palin in 2016: “I’ve enjoyed my life very much, and I admire it. I think it has been a very good and interesting life and I’ve made a whole of it, quite deliberately.
“I’ve done all of my books to make one big, long autobiography. My life has been one whole self-centred exercise in self-satisfaction!”
She is arguably most famous for her widely admired travel writing, and Palin said: “She’s kind of a non-fiction novelist. She creates an image and a feeling of a place that stays in your mind.”
Author Kate Mosse, whose books include Labyrinth, paid tribute to an “extraordinary woman”. Fellow writer Sathnam Sanghera tweeted: “What a life, and what a writer.”
Journalist Katherine O’Donnell added her “public visibility and account of her transition… let others like me know they were not alone”.
Jan Morris Age
Jan Morris has died at the age of 94-years-old.
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After the war Morris wrote for The Times, and in 1953 was its correspondent accompanying the British Mount Everest Expedition, which was the first to scale Mount Everest. Morris reported the success of Hillary and Tenzing in a coded message to the newspaper, “Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned may twenty-nine stop awaiting improvement”, and by happy coincidence the news was released on the morning of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. The message was initially interpreted to mean that Tom Bourdillon and Tenzing had reached the summit, but the first name was corrected before the story was broken. Claims that the news was held back ignore the communication problems of the time; it was quite an achievement to get the news to London by Coronation Day, as it had to be sent to Namche Bazaar by runner.
Reporting from Cyprus on the Suez Crisis for The Manchester Guardian in 1956, Morris produced the first “irrefutable proof” of collusion between France and Israel in the invasion of Egyptian territory, interviewing French Air Force pilots who confirmed that they had been in action in support of Israeli forces. Morris reported on the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.
Morris opposed the Falklands War.
Married & Children
In 1949, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter; they had five children together, including the poet and musician Twm Morys. One of their children died in infancy. They continued to live together in rural North Wales until Morris’ death.
Morris received honorary doctorates from the University of Wales and the University of Glamorgan, was an honorary fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She received the Glyndŵr Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Wales in 1996.
She accepted her CBE in the 1999 Birthday Honours “out of polite respect”, but is a Welsh nationalist republican at heart. In 2005, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for “a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature”. In January 2008, The Times named her the 15th greatest British writer since the War. She has featured in the Pinc List of leading Welsh LGBT figures. She won the 2018 Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award.
In an interview with BBC in 2016 she told Michael Palin that she does not like to be described as a travel writer, as her books are not about movement and journeys; they are about places and people.
Books & Novels
Morris wrote more than 40 books including a notable trilogy about Britain’s empire, Pax Britannica, during the 1960s and 70s.
Labour MP for Cardiff North Anna McMorrin added that Morris was “an incredible writer, pioneer and historian”.
Morris’s book Venice, about the Italian city, is considered to be a classic by The Guardian.
Palin said it was “one of the most influential books of my life”.
“Her description of the city transcended any conventional travel writing I’ve come across. Morris’s heart and soul was in the book. It was like a love affair,” he said.
“Her book started my own love affair with the city, which has lasted all my life. And as a writer she taught me the importance of curiosity and observation.”
The author also wrote fiction, however, and her book Last Letters from Hav made the Booker Prize shortlist in 1985. It was a novel written in the form of travel literature.
Morris was particularly renowned as a journalist for announcing the ascent of Everest, in an exclusive scoop for The Times in 1953.
She accompanied Edmund Hillary as far as the base camp on the mountain, to witness the historic attempt on the summit.
The news was announced on the same day as the Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Later, in 1999, she accepted a CBE from the Queen, but said it was out of politeness.
Morris wrote about her transition in her 1974 book Conundrum, which was hugely successful.
She wrote in the book about having surgery in a clinic in Casablanca. The Guardian described it as a “powerful and beautifully written document”.
The writer told the Financial Times in 2018 she did not think her gender reassignment had changed her her writing, saying: “Not in the slightest. It changed me far less than I thought it had.”
She added that she did not think she would have achieved more as a man.
When not abroad, her home was in Gwynedd in Wales, where she held staunchly nationalist views and was honoured by the Eisteddfod for her contribution to Welsh life.
Cause of Death
Morris died on 20 November 2020 at Ysbyty Bryn Beryl, Pwllheli in North Wales. Her death was announced by her son Twm.
Jan Morris’s journalism and travel writing was superb. Her guide to Venice is a joy that will never be bettered. A pioneering trans woman, her public visibility and account of her transition, Conundrum, let others like me know they were not alone. A great life is over. RIP Jan x
— Katherine O'Donnell (@kathy__odonnell) November 20, 2020
Her son Twm announced her death, saying she was on her “greatest journey”. “This morning at 11.40 at Ysbyty Bryn Beryl, on the Llyn, the author and traveller Jan Morris began her greatest journey. She leaves behind on the shore her life-long partner, Elizabeth.